The Counter-Reformation, Science, and Long-Term Growth: A Black Legend?

97 Pages Posted: 21 Mar 2023 Last revised: 7 Sep 2023

Date Written: March 15, 2023


Is it true that the Catholic reaction to Protestantism—the Counter-Reformation—led to scientific and economic decline for hundreds of years? Introducing biography-based evidence, I show that Catholic and Protestant European cities long shared comparable trends of scientists per capita. But after imposing intellectual control in response to the Reformation, Catholics experienced a dramatic scientific collapse coinciding with the Counter-Reformation’s different timing and intensity across cities. Reassuringly, science began to recover after the Counter-Reformation was dismantled, but the recovery stagnated when Counter-Reformation-rooted institutions were revived centuries later against new ideological threats. Although it has largely vanished by now, the gap in science that emerged during the Counter-Reformation was enormous, lasted centuries, and helps explaining Europe’s unequal modern economic growth. Protestants also tried to impose their own bigotry but lacked sufficient coordination and authority. Had they been more effective, modern science and sustained economic growth might have never taken off.

Keywords: Science, Catholicism, Counter-Reformation, Inquisition, Spanish Empire, censorship, dictatorships, conservatism, political economy, economic growth, causes of persistence

JEL Classification: N00, P00, N10, O11, O10, O30, O43, Z12, F50

Suggested Citation

Cabello, Matias, The Counter-Reformation, Science, and Long-Term Growth: A Black Legend? (March 15, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Matias Cabello (Contact Author)

MLU Halle-Wittenberg ( email )

Chair of Economic Growth and Development
Halle (Saale), DE Sachsen-Anhalt 06108


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